When a bunch of men decide to not just restore a World War II vintage aircraft but also fly it around the world, it’s an insane tale of inspiration. This is the story of The Silver Spitfire
Words Aninda Sardar
For the last couple of years, I have been faced with a personal struggle. I love cars and I’m particularly in love with my uncle’s 1939 Austin Seven, which he has said I can take. Although the car is in pretty good working order for an 80-year-old motorcar, my challenge has always been the fact that while the Austin is in my house in Calcutta, I live in Poona. That means I will have to transfer it across the country and given my loathing for putting a perfectly good car on a truck that only means one thing, driving it down. Which, quite frankly, is the biggest speedbreaker on an otherwise smoothly paved train of thought.
Much as I love it, the Austin is after all very old and certainly nowhere near as reliable as a modern machine. Besides, I simply won’t have access to spares on a road trip of that magnitude, which is scary, et cetera, et cetera. So imagine the shock to my system when I first learnt about The Longest Flight.
To cut a long story short, a bunch of enthusiasts took a World War II vintage Spitfire aircraft, restored it back to top flying condition and have embarked on a 27-effingthousand-mile journey around the globe!
The route would see them take off from an airfield in Britain, fly across the Atlantic, over the USA before hooking upwards to Canada and then across the Arctic into Asia before heading to South Asia and then finally looping back towards Great Britain. Effectively, it’s a round the world trip. A trip that celebrates the idea of timelessness, British precision engineering, the centenary of the Royal Air Force.
As if the idea of flying a vintage aircraft around the world wasn’t daunting enough, pilots Matt Jones and Steve Brooks who conceived this loony idea decided to not just use any Spitfire but to rebuild and restore one that had actually seen action in WW II. “The decision to fly the Silver Spitfire around the world was an instinctive one to honour the plane’s history, the people who built, maintained and flew it through more than 50 missions, and we want to commemorate those who lost their lives in the pursuit of freedom. It’s going to be exciting to bring the Spitfire back to many of the places it has served and to fly it for audiences who will see this beautiful and historic machine for the very first time,” said Matt.
Bearing serial number CBAFIX970, the Mark IX Spitfire that was chosen for the rebuild was actually built at the Vickers Supermarine factory in Castle Bromwich in 1943, which makes The Silver Spitfire as it is now called, 77 years old. Its flying record for the RAF shows that it flew no less than 51 combat missions during the war. Up until 2017 this beautiful aircraft designed by the genius that was R J Mitchell and flown principally by the RAF till it became a legend, was lying in storage for a museum. The restoration process itself took two years and generated some crazy stats. For instance, the transformation of CBAFIX970 into The Silver Spitfire gobbled up 80,000 rivets! Over the course of the two years the entire aircraft was dismantled and then rebuilt with many of the parts being replaced or repaired. At the very least, they were taken apart, cleaned, checked and restored. Twenty four months after work started The Silver Spitfire was ready to be rolled out to the world, along with a new call sign – G-IRTY.
Sponsored by the IWC Schaffhausen, a leading luxury watchmaker from Switzerland, The Longest Flight is not only part of the RAF’s centenary celebrations but also coincides with the 78th anniversary of the RAF’s victory over the German Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain. The Silver Spitfire was accompanied by a specially adapted support aircraft for filming and unique viewing opportunities. Stamp TV Producer Ben Uttley and Producer and Director of Photography John Dibbs flew in the support aircraft throughout the journey capturing this incredible journey in a documentary. This global adventure will also be captured in a book. Meanwhile, pilots Matt and Steve will be accompanied by Chief Engineer Gerry Jones and Project Director Lachlan Monro.
A project of epic proportions and even greater imagination, nothing sums up The Longest Flight better than the words of Steve. “Our aim for the flight is to inspire everyone who encounters this wonderful Silver Spitfire to achieve their ambitions, however daring, unusual or challenging. The chance to showcase this piece of British precision engineering for a truly global audience is a pilot’s Everest and an unmissable opportunity.”